Some of the most common questions I get as a support technician at Stephouse Networks are for help with extending your home network. While a lot of people can get by with just a wireless router to serve their home, sometimes you may need a little extra.
Let’s say that you have a large home and your Wi-Fi network doesn’t cover all of your glorious square footage. Or, maybe there are some circumstances (like those covered in one of our earlier blog posts) that are preventing you from optimizing your network coverage.
These issues can range from annoying to a serious problem, but there are plenty of options.
If you are in a somewhat modern building, the easiest solution is simply to purchase a wireless router that can cover the square footage of your property, office, or rental.
Choose your router based on your available space. You don’t necessarily need the biggest, baddest router. There are affordable wireless routers from big-box stores that cover very little square footage, perfect for small offices, dorm rooms, or those micro-apartments that continue to pop up all over Portland.
There are also more expensive routers that cover a wider swath of square footage – perfect for your two-story home, for example. Just make sure it is what you really need before dropping the cash.
Once you’ve determined the router you need, wired and wireless routers are readily available at most electronic stores, both online and brick and mortar. If you aren’t sure which model you need, you may want to go to a physical retail location and ask for advice.
That’s the easy way that most people will use. It wouldn’t be any fun if we didn’t explore some alternative, hands-on solutions though.
With that in mind, we have a few tactics that can improve your overall home network experience. Some are really simple tips, while some involve some in-depth handiwork or possibly a specialist.
Common solutions to extending your home network:
As awesome and convenient as wireless devices might be, nothing will beat the reliability and performance of just plugging your device into a wired port of your router.
For computers that are physically near the router, you’re just better off connecting to the router with an ethernet cable. If you plan to do any large uploads/downloads you will want to consider this method, if for no other reason that to decrease the risk of signal loss. If you are a gamer, despite the power Wi-Fi modems available for PCs and built into the new consoles, the additional speed from an Ethernet cable might make all the difference between fragging and being fragged.
This not only gives you a much more reliable connection, but also frees up wireless space for other devices to use.
Please keep in mind that each CAT-5 or CAT-6 cable has a distance limit of 300ft or so. This is not a problem in a simple office setting. If you’re running wires from multiple floors or within walls, however, you’ll want to keep an eye on the distance of the cable.
A good ol’ fashioned cable run may not be the most elegant solution, but it’s a relatively easy and inexpensive choice. Just remember to secure the cable, or else it becomes a tripping hazard!
Powerline adapaters that provide electrical power throughout your home can, with a simple adapter, also be used to carry data. Using adapters in your power outlets, you can carry data over existing infrastructure, eliminating the need for extra cabling or complicated wireless solutions.
There are powerline adapters to fit virtually any need. They’re produced by a wide variety of different companies, and with costs ranging between $20-$100 they can fit most budgets.
This solution has a few downsides to be aware of. The same issues that can plague your in-home power can also affect your Internet service. This article covers these disadvantages in more technical detail. However, if powerline adapters meet your needs, then it may be an option you would want to look into.
One approach to expanding your home network is to use a wireless repeater – a device that boosts your wifi signal to cover a wider area. There are two ways that you can do this: either by repurposing an old wireless router to act as a repeater, or by purchasing a brand new one.
Using a wireless repeater can be a relatively inexpensive option – you can find old wireless routers at many second-hand stores – and it does away with all of the clutter and mess of running cables.
There are, of course, downsides to consider as well: you may need to delve into more technical things like custom firmware, and a repeater doesn’t help with things like wireless interference, but it’s an inexpensive and relatively easy way to extend your home network.
If you’re looking for a more permanent solution, then you may want to think about having a professional wire up your home. Low voltage electricians can run network cabling throughout a home to provide network jacks wherever you may want them.
The results are by far the most convenient, but it’s also the most expensive option on the table and takes longer than any of the other solutions at your disposal. It seems like a very attractive solution at first, but you may want to assess your needs and options before moving forward with such major work. It’s also worth considering that at some point, those wires may become obsolete as new technology replaces it (although that could be years and years from now).
If you’ve got the DIY bug and know a thing or two about the wiring and infrastructure of your home, you could also do this work yourself. To be safe though, please consult the advice of a low-voltage electrician before conducting any of this work alone.
Extending your home network conclusions: One size does not fit all
Keep in mind that there’s no single solution that works well for everybody. Stephouse Networks can’t recommend any one particular path for anybody, and neither can anyone else. But I hope that this article serves as a good starting point for those of your who are looking to do more with their Internet connection.